Last week, the Justice Department brought new charges against four former Blackwater guards involved in a firefight in Baghdad that resulted in the deaths of 14 Iraqis and the wounding of 18 others. The incident occurred on September 16, 2007, while the guards were escorting a State Department motorcade.
In December 2008, charges of voluntary manslaughter and other crimes were brought against five former Blackwater Worldwide guards—Paul Slough, Nicholas Slatten, Evan Liberty, Dustin Heard, and Donald Ball. A sixth guard, Jeremy Ridgeway, pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the government. A year later, the court dismissed the charges against the remaining five due to prosecutorial misconduct, a decision that was overturned on appeal. Last week, a federal grand jury re-indicted Slough, Slatten, Liberty, and Heard. The government dropped charges against Ball last month.
The guards claim they came under fire from armed insurgents and acted in self-defense. The government alleges the shooting was an unprovoked attack on defenseless civilians.
“These defendants abused their power through a relentless attack on unarmed civilians that recklessly exceeded any possible justification,” U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen, Jr., told the media in regard to the new indictments.
The last time employees of Blackwater—now called Academi—were called to account for using lethal force occurred in 2011, when former guards Justin Cannon and Christopher Drotleff were convicted and sent to prison for a May 2009 shooting in Afghanistan that left two Afghans dead and one wounded.
The September 2007 Baghdad shooting brought Blackwater to international notoriety. Since then, the company has been trying to move forward through corporate name changes, disengaging from its controversial founder and former CEO Erik Prince, and filling its executive ranks with such VIPs as former Attorney General John Ashcroft and former White House counsel Jack Quinn.
Aside from a deferred prosecution agreement and $7.5 million fine last year resolving a weapons export investigation, Academi has largely managed to stay out of trouble in recent years. Last week’s re-indictments, however, show that Academi has not yet escaped its past.